Thursday, Charles Copti will take time off from his classes and midterms to travel to the Junior Olympics for the last time—as a freshman.
Copti has made the trip several times since he first started fencing at the age of 11 in Wyckoff, N.J. He said he picked up the sport after a bad bout with baseball left him searching for something new to do. It was not readily apparent that he would go on to become one of the most talented fencers in the country and a strong contender in international competitions, but Copti did not let that deter him from aggressively pursuing every chance he had to improve.
“I was looking at the [recreational sports] sheet at my school and I saw fencing on it so I said, ‘Okay cool, I’m not going to do baseball again so I’ll try it,’” Copti said. “It clicked and I liked it a lot…. There was a newspaper article in my town about this kid from the high school I would be going to about how he was athlete of the year and he’s done so many great accomplishments and I was like ‘I want to be that guy one day.’”
Copti followed up on his dream by emailing coach Paul Apostle at his future high school, and asking what he had to do to achieve his goal. Once he learned the necessary steps, it was only a matter of time before he was training in the city with coaches Sergey Isayenko and Yury Gelman—who coached saber for the 2012 Olympic team—at the Manhattan Fencing Center. Copti began rising in the national rankings and ultimately competed in World Cups and other international competitions, such as the Junior Olympics this weekend.
When Duke recruited Copti recruited to fence saber, he was making a tough decision between Notre Dame and Duke, eventually deciding on Duke for two reasons—because he wanted the close-knit team spirit that Duke offered and because he was considering a life after fencing and wanted the preparation Duke could provide.
Although his top-five finishes at past Junior Olympic events prove that Copti is an exceptional fencer, he is also not the first highly skilled athlete the Blue Devil fencers have called their own. Becca Ward, who graduated just last year, won bronze medals in the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, China for team and individual saber events and was a three-time NCAA Champion. Others, like senior Anthony Lin, participated in the World Cup tournaments prior to coming to Duke but switched focus to team competitions and academics once arriving at Duke.
For Copti, whether or not he will choose to make that switch—from dreams of becoming a professional fencer to dreams of going into an economics-based career—is still something he needs to consider. He said he is hoping that this year’s Junior Olympics will help him decide.
“This feels so much different now that I’m older and looking back on every single time I’ve been here—the feelings, the nervousness, the excitement, the pressure—so its kind of exciting to think this is my last one,” Copti said. “It’s a little bit nerve wracking because I want to do very well but at the same time it’s very nostalgic.”
Regardless of the outcome of the event or his ultimate decision, Copti has come a long way from his initial goal of becoming Athlete of the Year for Ramapo High School in Franklin Lakes, N.J..
I just want to represent Duke now and focus on making the top-eight like I used to and overall show that I still got it,” Copti said. “And maybe I’ll have some miraculous breakthrough where I’m going to say ‘You know what? This is what I’m going for’.”